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How did Finland's economic recession in the early 1990s affect socio-economic equity in the use of hospital care?


  • Keskimäki, Ilmo


The study evaluates the changes in socio-economic equity in the use of general hospital care in Finland from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s. In the early 1990s the Finnish economy plunged into a deep recession which slashed over 10% of GDP and resulted in a 12% decrease in national health expenditure. At the same time, the administration and financing of specialised health services were reformed. The impact on general hospital care was controversial: budgets were reduced but better productivity increased the supply of many services. According to the study, data, based on individual linkage of nationwide hospital registers to disposable family income data in population censuses, overall acute general hospital admission rates among Finns aged 25-74 increased by over 10% from 1988 to 1996. For some surgical procedures, such as cataract, coronary revascularisation and some orthopaedic operations, rates more than doubled. In both years, lower-income groups generally used hospital care more than the better-off. However, there was a slight shift towards a pro-rich distribution, mainly due to a larger increase in surgical care among the high-income groups. In 1988 the lowest income quintile used 8% and in 1996 15% fewer operations than the highest. For individual procedures and surgical diagnostic categories, the general trends of increasing disparities were similar. Despite cuts in expenditures in the early 1990s, the Finnish general hospital system based on public funding and provision managed to increase the supply of services. However, this increase coincided with widening socio-economic discrepancies in the use of surgical services. The paper proposes that these increasing inequities were due to certain features of the Finnish health care system which create social discrepancies in access to hospital care. These include the high profile of the private sector in specialised ambulatory care and in the supply of some elective procedures, and semi-private public hospital services requiring supplementary payments from patients.

Suggested Citation

  • Keskimäki, Ilmo, 2003. "How did Finland's economic recession in the early 1990s affect socio-economic equity in the use of hospital care?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 56(7), pages 1517-1530, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:56:y:2003:i:7:p:1517-1530

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Lumme, Sonja & Sund, Reijo & Leyland, Alastair H. & Keskimäki, Ilmo, 2012. "Socioeconomic equity in amenable mortality in Finland 1992–2008," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(5), pages 905-913.


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